For children born in the 21st Century, modern history is going to be difficult and exciting. It will look something like a special effects-laden blockbuster, complete with cartoonish villains and over-the-top heroics. The hardest part will be distinguishing what is real from what is not. Most likely, this will depend upon the source of their information.
Listening to the Republican noise machine, you may not recall some important facts that have shaped the last decade of American history, beyond the terrorist attacks of 9/11. The Romney Campaign has been feigning offense this week at their opponent’s decision to mark the anniversary of a huge foreign policy success. Here’s why:
The Iraq War, which began under false premises in 2002 and served to redirect the American public from the faulty search for the fugitive responsible for the 9/11 attacks, Osama bin Laden, eventually cost 4,500 American military lives and wounded over 30,000 more. Iraqi civilian casualties are inexact, but range in the hundreds of thousands.
In 2002, President George W. Bush stated:
“I don’t know where bin Laden is. I have no idea and really don’t care. It’s not that important. It’s not our priority.”
While Bush spent the rest of his presidency proving that he indeed did not have any idea, nor did he care where bin Laden was, his actions served to underscore this failure:
On May 1, 2003, Bush flew a fighter jet onto an aircraft carrier and strode out in full uniform to give a speech in front of a sign that read “Mission Accomplished.” At the time, 139 American casualties were reported in a war that had actually just begun.
A year later, on May 1, 2004, Bush infamously searched in jest for weapons of mass destruction in a side-splitting video shown at the 2004 White House Correspondents Dinner—it was funny because, you see, there weren’t any.
In 2008, with bin Laden alive and Iraq still a mess, Bush left office as a deeply unpopular president. Republican nominee John McCain picked up the baton from Bush—along with a woman from Alaska—and made a valiant attempt to continue these ineffective policies. McCain lost to Obama 365 to 173 in the Electoral College, but not before he belittled Obama’s rather prescient pledge to launch an attack within Pakistan if there were to be a credible shot at getting bin Laden.
Mitt Romney, then a failed candidate for the 2008 nomination, had been ridiculed by McCain in an earlier debate for saying that “it’s not worth moving heaven and earth spending billions of dollars just trying to catch one person.” Speaking of bin Laden, the candidate Romney appeared to adopt the Bush attitude toward America’s number one enemy: eh, whatever.
It is easy to see why Republicans are a bit touchy at their loss of foreign policy credentials. Politicizing the “war on terror” and 9/11 itself has been a conservative cornerstone for the past decade, one that somehow remained politically effective despite their failures. Bush and Dick Cheney managed to tie a completely unnecessary and entirely unjustified war under the 9/11 moniker and sell it to the American people, with a healthy dose of fear and nationalism. Rudy Giuliani would not continue to exist as a politician if not for his ability to pronounce the words “9/11.” One can only imagine the flag-waving and chest-thumping that would have ensued, had Bush managed to capture or kill bin Laden.
Now we can be sure that won’t happen. History will bear out the truth of these failures, as will the credit for the eventual successes that followed. Obama’s understated marking of this anniversary deserves to be aired, over the whining protestations of a flip-flopping campaign:
On May 2, 2011, eight years after Bush performed his cartoonish act on the aircraft carrier, President Obama announced the death of Osama bin Laden. Obama’s decision to send Navy Seals into Pakistan was carried out in full secrecy with daring precision; no U.S. casualties were suffered. On December 18, 2011, the last U.S. troops withdrew from Iraq and the war is now, finally, over.